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A national coalition will distribute funding to a handful of West Virginia restaurants that commit to raising wages for servers.

The High Roads Kitchen program will distribute $7,000 each to seven West Virginia restaurants that commit to scaling up wages for tipped workers to the state’s full minimum wage of $8.75.

The funding for the program will come from One Fair Wage, a national organization that aims to end low minimum wages.

In West Virginia, employers may pay tipped workers a rate $2.62 per hour or the federal rate of $2.13, if the employer has fewer than six employees.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, workers struggled while making $2.13 an hour, said Ryan Frankenberry, director of West Virginia Working Families, who spoke on behalf of One Fair Wage.

“With the pandemic, these workers reported that their tips went down because sales went down and health risks and sexual harassment went up, causing thousands of workers to leave the industry altogether,” Frankenberry said. “We want to support these workers to stay and work in restaurants in ways that allow them to survive and support their families.”

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The grant program was announced at a news conference Wednesday with Charleston City Councilwomen Keeley Steele and Jennifer Pharr, Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, and Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha.

Steele, a Charleston restaurant owner, said she already implemented One Fair Wage policies for workers at her cafe, Starlings Coffee & Provisions, and will do the same when she reopens Bluegrass Kitchen, her full-service restaurant that was closed earlier in the pandemic.

Restaurants across the country are facing staffing shortages. Several of Steele’s staff changed jobs or went back to school during the pandemic, she said. That’s led to a loss of an experienced workforce.

“I find this [grant program] to be an opportunity to be able to maybe get people to focus on wanting to go back into the service industry, or maybe even do it instead of something else,” Steele said.

To be eligible for the funding, restaurants also must commit to preparing and distributing at least 500 free meals to their community and completing a digital race- and gender-equity training course within nine months.

Restaurants may apply for the grant funding at bit.ly/highroadkitchenswv.

Lori Kersey covers the city and county. She can be reached at 304-348-1240 or lori.kersey@hdmediallc.com. Follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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